Phytolacca americana

polkweed, inkberry, pigeonberry, pokeberry, common pokeweed, phytolaque d'amérique, poke, american pokeweed, great pokeweed, red ink plant


Leaf Arrangement


Leaf Attachment


Leaf Margin


Leaf Type


Leaf Shape

oblong, elliptic, lanceolate, cuneate, ovate

Growth Form


Flower Color

pink, white

Flower Month

May - November

Height (meters)

0.9 - 3.0

Milky Sap








Growing Season

Warm season

Wetland Class


Wetland Coefficient of Conservatism


Prairie Coefficient of Conservatism


Field Characters

Identification tip: a similar species, Phytolacca rigida, is described by Correll and Johnston (1979) as having permanently erect, not nodding, fruiting racemes and a berry that is longer, not shorter, than its stalk. However, it is not treated as a separate taxon by the USDA (PLANTS 1999).

Cultural Information

Vose (1957) reports that seed germination is improved if seeds are scarified for 5-7 minutes in concentrated sulfuric acid then soaked for 10 or more hours. Mitchell (1926) reported that light was necessary for germination when the seed coat was intact and there was little difference when the seed had been scarified.

Animal Use

The following information is for the genus Phytolacca: Animals that eat its fruit: Mourning Dove, Bluebird, Cardinal, Catbird, Yellow-breasted Chat, Fish Crow, Crested Flycatcher, Kingbird, Mockingbird, Phoebe, Robin, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Brown Thrasher, Hermit Thrush, Cedar Waxwing, Golden-fronted Woodpecker, Hairy Woodpecker, Gray Fox, Red Fox, Opossum, Raccoon, White-footed Mouse (Martin et al. 1951). Is unpalatable to grazing animals.

Natural History

The Acadian name for pokeweed is "chou gras" or "fat cabbage." This name is used for goosefoot (Chenopodium album L.) in Quebec, which resembles pokeweed when young (Holmes 1990). It grows throughout Louisiana, and most of Texas, in fertile low ground and recent clearings and along roadsides. It ranges from Florida to Texas, north to New England. The berries were once used to darken wine that had been watered down, causing the king of Spain to order every pokeweed in the Spanish colonies to be cut down. The new leaves, emerging in the spring, are cooked as a pot herb. This practice is risky, however, since the older plants are poisonous and timing is very important. Many persons untrained in harvesting pokeweed have poisoned themselves and their families. The roots are long and thick and can be dug during the fall or winter, placed sideways in a box of soil in a warm, dark place. Eyes on the root will sprout, producing a blanched vegetable that is very good steamed or eaten in salads. The roots have reportedly been used to treat livestock (Holmes 1990). The large fleshy taproot is the most poisonous part of the plant and pigs have been poisoned by eating the root.


Rich low ground, especially in recent clearings and along roadsides, fields, low wooded areas, waste places.